Beis Moshiach Magazine
In recent years, Jews in New York had to contend with a new blood libel in a modern guise, in which the New York City Board of Health required parents to sign a legal consent form before their infant could have metzitza b’peh (oral suction) at a bris. * The influential Board of Health was on one side, facing a lone Chabad Chassid, a mohel by profession, on the other side. He was able to galvanize religious Jewry in New York to fight a battle that seemed hopeless. * On September 9 of this year, the NYC Board of Health rescinded that requirement. Beis Moshiach met with mohel, R’ Levi Heber, who told us about the miraculous battle that he fought and won. * A behind the scenes look at the news.
R’ Heber gets emotional when he talks about this critical stage and he sums it up from his perspective:
When you see the total picture of the fight, the court cases, the hearings and the rulings that were on Chanuka or Hei Teves, we saw heavenly messages throughout.
One day, there was a meeting of Satmar Rabbanim on this matter and I was invited to speak. I told them that there was a woman who asked me to perform a bris on her son. She said she was Reform and she wanted me to do a Reform bris. I didn’t know what she meant and I asked her to tell me what that means. She said she didn’t know and that she just wanted me to know that she is Reform and I should do their kind of bris.
I told her that the baby is not Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox but a Jewish child and a bris is performed on the eighth day for all Jewish children as it was always done throughout the generations. She accepted this and I did the bris k’halacha.
When I finished speaking, the Satmar representative said he really didn’t understand how, on this issue, there was such a rare achdus between us. ’Now I understand it. It’s because this mitzva pertains to everyone equally and there is no difference between Satmar and Lubavitch and Reform. All are Jews.’
“At one of the annual Agudah conventions, they had me speak, which is a chiddush. I presented our position and the reason we were fighting with all the means at our disposal.”
After numerous and lengthy court sessions, the heads of the Board of Health decided to repeal the consent form regulation. This was the best scenario we could have asked for. Their decision was made two months ago, on 25 Elul. They even conceded on the request for a compromise and completely repealed the law. Our feeling was that the topic was over and done with.
I know that it wasn’t easy for them to do this. In a small meeting that we had with the deputy mayor, she explained that she was on our side and that she had spoken with the Board of Health and told them that she had never understood why they were investing millions in order to explain the dangers of contagion when in their churches they all drank from the same cup and the Board of Health never warned about it or issued explanatory material about that. It was rather suspicious that just bris mila they are concerned about.
The people at the Board of Health told her that with the Christians there is no one who will complain and try to change the situation, while with bris mila, there are many Jews who are pushing for this law.
She apologized to us and said America is built on a foundation of freedom of religion. She even asked us not to publicize the matter so as not to embarrass the current administration.
“Now that the law was repealed I can say that one of the officials at the Board of Health came to me privately and told me that he was there when the whole thing started up. He said that the officials there were hysterical over this. ‘The way they worked to limit bris mila they never did on any other issue.’”
There were many dramatic moments in this story. There were days when everything stood on a hair. Professionals were skeptical and politicians sympathetic to religious Jews advised R’ Heber and his colleagues to drop the matter and try and cut corners, but R’ Heber knew how great the responsibility was that rested on his shoulders.
I remember once standing in the offices of the Board of Health and I told their representatives, ‘Here, in this room, are representatives of most religious-traditional Jewry in America. This is most unusual for us but now, in this case, we are in complete unity. So I would like to tell you that if you work with us, you will benefit from this relationship that you will have with all of us. I do not recommend that you fight the beautiful unity that we have among us.’
One of them heard this and was moved. He got up and said, ‘You’re right. We usually don’t see this kind of unity.’
“With open siyata d’Shmaya (heavenly assistance), Lubavitch led the way and was able to unite all of religious Jewry until we won and it was a great kiddush sheim Lubavitch.”